In his final public appearance, the Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha addressed a Tirana crowd to commemorate the capital’s liberation from German invaders on the 28 November 1944. The Hoxha who had entered the city as a communist partisan was now a weak old man. He was often confined to a wheelchair, had to be hoisted on to his podium using a custom-built lift and was only prevented from falling by camouflaged safety rails. The dictator was deeply vulnerable but still formidably powerful.
In a characteristically rousing sign-off, lip-synced over a pre-recorded speech, he urged those gathered to
safeguard all that we have achieved like the apple of our eye and take these achievements even further, so that future generations will inherit a stronger Albania, a Red Albania, red like the eternal fire burning in partisan and communist ideals, an Albania that will live and prosper for centuries to come.
This Albania was not a real place, but Hoxha’s delusions had nothing to do with senility. As Fevziu writes,
The Albania Hoxha had promised 40 years earlier did not exist. It was never achieved. What the Albanian people were left with was best described as a nightmarish caricature of Stalin’s Soviet Union, a carbon copy of Stalinist oppression, crammed within the borders of a small country.
When Hoxha died on the 11 April 1985, Albania was the third poorest country in the world, with a per capita income of $15 per month. During his 41 years at Albania’s helm Hoxha had declared 64 per cent of the coast a military zone. Beaches were wreathed in barbed wire and land borders sealed with electric fences. Albania’s population was literally captive. Over four decades of totalitarian rule, Fevziu estimates that 5,487 were executed, 24,155 imprisoned and 70,000 displaced.